This morning, as I so often do, I met with some nice folks touting a new e-discovery product.  As we talked, I couldn’t help but recall Lover Come Back, a goofy Mad Men-era flick about an ad executive who mounts a glitzy campaign for a product that doesn’t exist.   The movie starred Rock Hudson, Doris Day and Tony Randall, and was fun; the product briefing less so.

Without offering sufficient detail to identify the product, let me say that it’s one of those that come on the scene before every ILTA or LegalTech, with catchy names, slick brochures and ambitious development timelines.  These upstarts claim to offer groundbreaking features and pricing that always turn out to be much the same groundbreaking features and pricing offered by last year’s new kid on the block.  Names we recognize from other products and vendors attach themselves to these ventures, and it all seems like an honest-to-goodness business save for one teeny tiny wrinkle: the promised product doesn’t exist.

Behind the scenes of this powerful end-to-end dynamo are people using a competitor’s tool and painstakingly positioning the output so that it seems like the product really delivers.  It’s not meant to deceive because beneath the marketing lies a heartfelt intent to build the product as soon as enough people commit to buy it and cash begins to flow.   In this field of dreams, if they come, we will build it.

I don’t know.  Maybe this is how great products are born nowadays.  Perhaps it’s all about hype, and it doesn’t matter if the product follows the deal or the deal follows the product.  But, I don’t think a product pitch should recall Empress Catherine II admiring the false fronts of Disneyesque villages erected by her lover, Potemkin, or of late, the photos of thriving businesses placed in vacant storefronts to downplay economic doldrums to those attending the 2013 G8 Summit in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.

Vendors: I like to look at your products, I really do.  I ask this of you in return.  If you are going to show me something, it should exist now, not “maybe in the next release.”  If you claim your product can do something, it should be able to do it, and not only in a contrived demo against a handful of sanitized Enron documents.  Your pricing should be clear and reflect real world experience, not the costs paid by those who don’t need you to actually do anything.  And if you can’t direct me to a satisfied customer who regularly uses your product, don’t tell me it’s because you’re guarding client confidentiality.  Instead, please change my litter, fill my water bottle and put pellets in my dish, so I can get back to being a guinea pig.